In February 2013, I attended the Texas Music Educator Association’s annual convention in San Antonio. The express purpose was to evaluate as many euphoniums as I could get my hands on, but the Adams series of euphs in particular.
I played all that they had and found the Adams people to be more than happy to let me play as long as I liked. The euphs come in two basic series – the E1, which is a lighter horn, less beefy; and the E2 which is almost a tenor tuba. In terms of weight, I found the E2 to be roughly on par with the Besson Prestige, 12″ bell with the trigger. Heavy bottom valve caps and extra bracing without, this is a horn that has a rich, velvety sound that any bandsman would love.
The E1 was more to my liking. This instrument didn’t have much of the extra bracing (and is therefore a little more delicate), and depending on the gauge of metal (runs the gamut from 0.5mm on up to 0.75mm and presumably even thicker and thinner, depending on whether a custom instrument is ordered), I got qualities ranging from the rich velvety quality that I got on the E2 to the thin and tinny. I eventually settled on the E1 with a gauge of 0.6mm, but with the added dimension of a sterling silver bell.
I wish I could explain the quality I get out of this metal that I don’t get out of the normal brass that Adams supplies in their bells. It’s a rich, singing quality that simply permeates the air. Maybe it’s just me, but this quality in the 0.6mm gauge was exactly what I was looking for in terms of sound.
Ergonomics were good, although the Sterling Virtuoso is built with the outer 3rd valve tube tucked in more toward the instrument, out of the way. That helps cut down the angle of the left hand as it wraps around the instrument to activate the 4th valve. The Adams isn’t that far off, but the Virtuoso is slightly better in this area. There is a substantial weight difference between the Virtuoso and the E1 in that the Virtuoso is noticeably heavier – probably on the order to a pound of more. That makes the Adams easier to handle in longer practice sessions.
Intonation is far and away the best of any euphonium I’ve ever played. The sharp sixth partial that seems to be inherent with any euphonium built with a larger leadpipe (vice the European-shank and small shank models, and arguably some of the Yamaha euphoniums) is virtually nonexistent. You do NOT need a tuning slide trigger with this horn, although Adams will build it for you if you want. My suggestion would be to omit it, as it adds extra weight and extra maintenance headaches.
This horn is built a little flat, however. When cold, the horn will register about 25 cents flat with the main tuning slide pushed in all the way. After warmup, the tuning slide can come out some, but there is not much room for adjustment when your ensemble starts playing sharp, as most do throughout a rehearsal or concert. I’ve experimented with several mouthpieces and I’ve found that the Wick mouthpieces (not the SM- or Ultra-series necessarily) are built a little bit shorter than others and that seems to help a little bit. I’ve also reverted back to a 4AL rather than the Ultra 3 I was playing on, and I think the slightly smaller size helps also.
One of the features of the Adams that no other euph has is the adjustable leadpipe. I’ve adjusted the leadpipe virtually all the way out and all the way in, and what seems to change for me is slotting. Slotting becomes a little more crowded with the leadpipe all the way in (meaning the partials are closer together) and with the leadpipe almost all the way out, slotting becomes, well, different. I didn’t like it there, so I adjusted the leadpipe to about the middle setting, which seems to work well for me. I have not spent a great deal of time with this, however.
The instrument does NOT come with a 4th valve lock, which is most likely a weight-saving measure, but I find this to be short-sighted. There is nothing wrong with a little more weight for a little extra security — having a 4th valve broken off because of an accident or rough handling is not fun to deal with, so I would hope that the Adams people make the 4th valve lock standard rather than an option. Another curious thing is the standard finger buttons — they are made of metal and are slightly rounded. Really, Adams? Why would you do that? If anything, a finger button should have a very slight indentation to it to accommodate the finger tip. Having tried the instrument in February and noticing that odd configuration, I ordered my horn with hardwood inserts, which both feel comfortable and secure. None of that slipping-off-the-valve-button because of being slightly off-target or because the fingers are wet.
Speaking of wet, the water catcher that Adams supplies (apparently only on request) is top-notch and keeps the instrument very dry. None of that constant pissing of water out of the bottom of the valves. The water catcher catches all that and will hold two hours of water production before dumping is a good idea. It’s spring loaded, so the catcher sits up against the bottom of the valves very securely. You pop it out, dump the water, and with a solid snick, it clicks into place again. Great design.
The Adams does not normally provide a braced tuning slide, but I specifically requested one. I tend to hug the horn fairly closely and I wanted the extra bracing just for the sake of a little extra security. I have not noticed any impact on response. Another rather odd thing, at least for me, is that the 4th valve slide actually collects water. I’ve played a lot of different horns over the years, but I’ve never played one till now that actually collected water there. It’s not bad, just different. Just dump a couple of times in every practice session and that’s it.
The Marcus Bonna traveling case is good, though I have not had occasion to actually travel with it yet. I do all my practicing at home and, apart from picking up the instrument in early November (yes, it took from March 2013 till November to finally take delivery), I’ve not traveled with the instrument at all except to bring it home. The case comes with a detachable pouch for sheet music and there are a couple of velcro attachment points for a collapsible music stand. Oh, and I should mention the shoulder straps that help keep the hands free while walking to the gig site.
Since early November, I’ve played this instrument daily and I have grown to love the timbre, the singing quality, and the richness that I can get. This instrument is far more capable than I am, but I am learning to shape sound and nuance with it, which will help me in my own development as a player.
Miel Adams and his staff hit the ball out of the park with this horn!